Since humans discovered we could fling ourselves at the contextually tiny dot floating around us and bring them back, we’ve been obsessed with exploring the galaxy around us.
Space exploration is truly fascinating and throughout 2021 we saw major leaps in how we will explore space in the near future.
It all began in February with the arrival of three spacecraft in or near Martian orbit. The first to arrive was the United Arab Emirates’ Hope space probe. This probe would take high-resolution and infrared images as well as use an ultraviolet spectrometer to collect data.
This data will be used to create a map of Martian weather once every nine days and this thanks to “science orbit” allowing the craft to capture all of the planet’s geography.
Next in-line to arrive was Tianwen-1, China’s first Martian rover. That rover is currently on the surface of Mars exploring the Utopia Planitia region of Mars in hopes of discovering ancient signs of water.
NASA also arrived on Mars with its Perseverance rover as well as the Ingenuity helicopter which has been exploring Mars from the air. The main area of exploration is the Jezero Crater where rock samples are being collected in hopes of retrieving them in future.
While SpaceX’s owner has courted controversy, we cannot ignore the excellent work the company is doing. Not only has SpaceX been ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station all year, it has also completed a mission with a crew of civilian astronauts. The Inspiration4 mission saw four regular folks spend three days orbiting the Earth.
SpaceX wasn’t alone, however, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin completing trips to the edge of space three times this year. Blue Origin saw its owner Jeff Bezos enter the history books as the first billionaire to go to space aboard a craft their company built. While Sir Richard Branson’s flight aboard Virgin Galactic did take place before Bezos’, Branson didn’t breach the Karman Line.
This year also saw the launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test in which NASA is attempting to change the course of an asteroid by throwing a rocket at it.
In addition, Blue Origin has announced plans to build a business park in space through its Orbital Reef space station. This plan has been given the greenlight by NASA, as have several other ventures which may change how humans interact with the galaxy around us.
The Hubble Space Telescope also began showing its age this year. The telescope broke down several times throughout the year and NASA was forced to conduct maintenance from the ground.
The telescope is currently fully operational unless something happened between us writing this in mid-December and publication.
This is just a slice of what has happened in space this year and we haven’t even touched on the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope which is yet to happen at time of writing.
The year has been a great one for space nerds such as ourselves and if this is a sign of things to come, we’re incredibly excited to see what happens in the years to come.